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REFRAME OUR MOTHERS-IN-LAW: SURVEY REPORT

A few months ago I sent out a Survey Monkey questionnaire with the request for help  in finding an untarnished, generic term for ‘the mother of my significant other’. This is to tell you how it went.

AND to thank all those who responded. I admit that my expectations were significantly exceeded.  In particular,  I received a flood of emails suggesting new names and also offering remarkable stories about their mothers-in-law, to confirm my view that we’re not all deserving of the bad reviews we tend to get from stand-up comics.  However, no resounding winning name surfaced, so we’re still talking about mothers-in-law rather than using an alternate word.

There were 130 responses – it exceeded the allowable limit on the free SurveyMonkey account! Of course SurveyMonkey offered to upgrade my account (for approx $27 per month) so that I could have full access to the data. Considering that the first 100 responses did not come close to consensus on a cool new name for Mils I decided to forfeit access to the last 30 responses. Unfortunately that means that I don’t know who they are and I can’t include them in this report or thank them for their participation. Maybe they’ll hear via the grapevine and land on this page.

76.7% of the respondents completed the whole questionnaire and 23.3% completed it only partially, but overall the message was clear.

It means that over the next year I’m targeting this topic for some solid research and deeper thinking. I’m not sure where it will lead (there’s a Canadian university that might be interested in the matter of the role and standing of mothers-in-law as a doctoral thesis topic, but that’s another story).

The term “Mother-in-law” is seriously tainted by horrible jokes, movies and cartoons. Yes, there are some weird and nasty Mils, but why should we all be subjected to the dark, sniggering judgement that follows when you say ‘my mother-in-law’?

Through an informal survey of our Facebook friends, my son, Eric, and I had solicited suggestions for a better name for ‘the mother of my significant other’. The options respondents were asked to rate were:

Mother-in-love;    Belle Mere;    Amamom;    Goodmum;    Azamom;    Bonusmom;    Heatmom;    SheezRmom

The rating choices were:

  1. I don’t THINK so

  2. Marginally better than mother-in-law

  3. This is on the right track, but no

  4. Almost there. If it became a thing I’d use it

  5. This is it! Yes I would totally use it.

1,082 invitations were sent out (with an opt out provision)

Only 8 recipients opted out.

There were 130 responses

In the table below are the responses – focusing only on the scores for the I DON’T THINK SO and the THIS IS IT! options.

Optional alternate name for mother-in-law Total responses I don’t THINK so This is it! Yes I would totally use it

Mother-in-love

98

52.04%

3.06%

Belle mere

71

39.44%

8.45%

Amamom

70

84.29%

1.43%

Goodmum

70

68.57%

1.43%

Azamom

68

91.18%

1.47%

Linkmom

71

81.69%

1.41%

Bonusmom

72

45.83%

11.11%

Heartmom

71

61.97%

0

SheezRmom

69

84.06%

0

Bonusmom comes out ahead as being the most likely to be adopted and also the second-least objectionable.

Belle-mère  is shown to be the least objectionable, and has the second highest level of acceptance.  I know from emails that it is already in use in our Francophone communities as the term for either mother-in-law or stepmother.  What I liked about it is that its literal meaning is ‘beautiful mother’ – in the same class as what we use in Afrikaans – ‘skoonma’ – ‘skoon’ being an abbreviation for ‘beeldskoon’, meaning beautiful.

However, there’s no clear majority that loved a particular alternate and I’m not going to apply the first-past-the-post-is-the-winner rule. It means that more work needs to be done.

To me this was the beginning of a conversation rather than an expectation that we’re going to make linguistic history.

This has been an intesting little project and the personal email stories I received from some of you has given me some further ideas. Such as:

  1. Compiling an ebook containing positive and personally told Mother-in-law stories, perhaps in time for the next Mothers’ Day

  2. Organizing an in-law retreat for Mils and Dils, to spend a weekend celebrating each other, strengthening bonds, and having some great experiences.

  3. Offering Mil training – building strong skills in communications, conflict resolution, cross-generational cultural understanding.

I started out on this topic based on my own personal objection to being stereotyped as a Mil, by someone who had met me about 10 minutes before.

She is a young woman whose field is working with young mothers. She had stories to tell about Mils who had been a problem for her in her work. I’m not surprised. With the lack of understanding and respect she showed it would have taken a saint not to feel judged and denigrated. I imagine how she would inject her poison in the vulnerable minds of young women going through all that pregnancy and childbirth puts you through. Perpetuating a stereotype. One day, if our paths ever cross again, I will thank her for setting me on this journey of trying to figure out what is the role and impact of a mother-in-law in a family; extrapolating from that, what is the social value that is brought to our communities by those of us who are mothers-in-law.

My initial readings suggest that we are pivotal in stabilizing or destabilizing families through the influence we have with our children and their children.

It’s going to be a fascinating study – let me know if you want to be updated as I go along. And, especially, if you have a story to tell, please tell it to me! (I’m open to all Mil stories – the good, the bad, the ugly and the inspirational.)

Thank you for your interest and support, from Delphine, mil to three remarkable women (no, that’s not me, nor any of my dils – she’s a relative by marriage and that baby in her belly is a remarkable young man now).

Human relations are nuanced. It's not all black or white

WHAT?? It’s not all black or white?

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